Is your business busy—maybe a little too busy—this holiday season? If you're currently vowing that you'll never be unprepared for the holiday shopping season again, then you may want to start getting ready for your next year's holiday shoppers now.
That may sound a little nuts if you feel like you can't think ahead to the next 10 minutes let alone next year. But you may be able to remove a lot of future stress by taking notes now on what your business is doing right, and what it's failing on. And, hey, you never know, it may help you reduce this year's stress, too.
So if you're game, and you want to start planning ahead for next year's holiday shoppers, think ahead.
1. Observe what is going wrong and figure out why you aren't measuring up.
Maybe you won't really be able to study the issue until after the holidays, but if you have the time, try and figure out it now.
Doing so may help you this holiday season, too. There may be problems with your suppliers, or maybe the bottleneck has to do with your shipping practices. Whatever it is, there's probably something going on that can be improved upon, says Suyog Mody, co-founder and co-CEO of Driftaway Coffee, a personalized online coffee subscription service headquartered in Brooklyn. (His wife Anu Menon is the other co-founder and co-CEO.)
Driftaway generates about 40 percent of its revenue over six weeks during the holiday season. During the holidays in 2015, when the company was almost 18 months old, it became clear that Driftaway couldn't keep up with its demand.
“Our order volume went up 10 times from a regular week," Mody says. “We were simply not ready deal with this. I still remember we spent one almost 24-hour cycle at the warehouse, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. And then [we] got some sleep, went back in at 9 a.m. to finish the leftover orders. At that time, we said to ourselves that we'll never let this happen again."
To stay true to their word, Mody says the company fixed their operation processes a lot. Specifically, they found a more efficient way to pack their coffee tasting kits.
“It's four different coffees in small quantities and there's no straightforward way to automate it. So we had to fix the manual filling, sealing, sticking and packing process," Mody says.
—Brandon Chopp, digital marketing strategist, iHeartRaves
Mody and Monen also came up with a second seemingly minor fix, but it made a major difference in the company's output throughout the year—and has helped immensely this holiday season.
“Our warehouse is in Red Hook, [Brooklyn]," Mody says. “It's difficult to get to by subway, and there aren't many food options within quick walking distance. We also start at 7 a.m. Being a coffee business, we always have a lot of coffee on hand, but we didn't have any food."
The warehouse is only in operations mode on Fridays, staffed by contract workers—mostly musicians earning some extra money, Mody says. Last year during the holiday season, Mody started bringing in doughnuts at the beginning of the shift for the workers. He soon thought better of that and began bringing in protein-heavy breakfast items, like boiled eggs and pretzel-egg sandwiches from local restaurants once a week.
Thanks to the protein, everyone's more energetic, Mody says. And because they know breakfast is being served, everyone is on time, too.
2. Study your hiring practices.
You needed help, and you've hired accordingly. Great. But maybe you didn't hire enough people—or maybe you hired too many.
To plan for next year, consider taking a look at your numbers this year. What did your profit numbers end up becoming? How much revenue you think your temporary staff brought to your business?
Ideally, you'll be able to hire someone who will bring in at least 10 times the sales of his or her employment costs, says Robin Lee Allen, a managing partner with Esperance Private Equity. (The New York City-based company invests in private companies.)
“Most businesses have profit margins averaging somewhere around 15 percent. To be conservative, let's make that 10 percent," Allen says. "If you run the numbers backward, it means that every dollar spent on costs needs to be offset by 10 dollars coming in simply to stand still. This includes human capital costs, which include payroll taxes and such. This why understanding the bump in holiday sales is so important."
Even if you don't follow Allen's math, his larger point should be clear. Understanding how many people to hire over the holidays to service holiday shoppers is important. If you hire too few or too many employees, you may lose money.
Allen says that the holidays can be a good time to add onto your staff permanently or to dole out raises if you find that an employee is performing better than you dreamed and if they're “exhibiting extraordinary profitability."
“Be on the alert for hidden stars," Allen says.
3. Pore over your holiday sales numbers and social media strategies.
You're probably holding a lot of sales right now and going berserk on social media, trying to reach every consumer possible. That's great, but consider studying what works—and what doesn't—so you can have a better idea of what to repeat and what to jettison next year.
If you have a lot of online sales, consider studying the site's traffic and conversation rates, says Brian Lim, CEO of iHeartRaves (a store that sells rave clothing and festival fashion wear), Emazing Lights (which specializes in LED gloves) and all-over print clothing purveyor INTO THE AM.
He says that after this year's holidays, he'll be looking at the company's email open rates and click rates, and comparing them to previous years.
“This helps us determine ways to improve our email marketing campaigns to increase those numbers," Lim says. “For social media, we like to observe the number of clicks going to our shop from our Instagram page, and we also look at overall engagement."
His team will also be studying the numbers behind his holiday sales—a lot of them.
“We're really pushing sales earlier with Black November—sales the entire month," says Brandon Chopp, the digital marketing strategist for iHeartRaves. “Sales don't start on Black Friday anymore as most companies start earlier to try to top each other."
And that's a good thing, Chopp adds.
“Spreading sales throughout the month versus over a few days helps with order fulfillment and customer service tremendously."
4. Mark down important dates on the calendar to prepare for next year's holiday shoppers.
Take a look at next year's calendar. You may want to start jotting down the dates you need to begin putting mechanisms in place to make next year's holiday season go smoothly.
For instance, Carin Luna-Ostaseski, founder and CEO of SIA Scotch Whisky, says that she starts monitoring and managing her inventory in preparation for holiday sales in July.
According to Luna-Ostaseski, she pretty much has to spend months preparing for the holiday season because Scotch is a top gift item for holiday gifts.
"About 70 percent of my sales happen in November and December," she says.
"My lead time from start to finish from ordering dry goods and liquid to finished product delivered from Scotland to my warehouse in the U.S. is three months," Luna-Ostaseski continues. "I track my sales year over year and adjust production as needed. I also manage PR, social media and gift guides beginning in August as editorial deadlines are quite earlier than you'd expect."
In the coming months, Luna-Ostaseski is hiring in-store demonstration teams and scheduling consumer tasting events for the holidays. She also has plans to start hiring temporary support staff to help her fulfill orders.
"I also set aggressive incentives for my distributor sales team to get them excited and motivated for the season," Luna-Ostaseski says.
But the bright side is that if you prepare for those holiday shoppers now, you may actually not only survive next year's festivities—you may actually enjoy them.
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